Learning From the Past is Essential for a Peaceful Future

Fatima Bawazir
Yemen’s past is instructive about forging a future of coexistence. But invaluable insights are at risk of dissolving in the ruins of war. It’s our task to cast fresh light on them so they can serve as a compass for the way forward.
Musnad script found in Sa’dah, northwest Yemen, (photo ca. 1973-1990). © Fernando Varanda / Arts Library, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

The first and most important insight regarding the past is that peace and power need not be mutually exclusive. War and violent conflict may yield temporary supremacy, but they provide no means to establish long-term power. 

Throughout history, stable communities in the eastern region of Hadhramaut mastered trade, agriculture, and fishing. Writing for the Royal Geographical Society in 1931, researcher Lee Warner reported that Hadhramis migrated to East Asia and the East African coast for centuries, mingling with local communities through their business practices and religious ties to Muslim communities.

The kingdom of Ma’in, which flourished in South Arabia between the fourth and second centuries BCE, enjoyed considerable power and influence through trade. In a research paper, Mohammed Maraqten, a historian at the University of Heidelberg, writes that Ma’in residents were chiefly merchants with no evidence of military activities on their part.

In the present age, thousands of lives were lost in the South Yemen Civil War, which started on January 13, 1986. Years later, the Southern Movement, a political group formed in 2007, declared 13 January a day of reconciliation and tolerance among southern Yemenis. 

Perhaps one day we’ll witness a National Day of Reconciliation that brings all Yemenis together.

In Hadhramaut, local authorities placed a monument to soldiers who died in clashes with al-Qaeda militias in the 2016 battle to liberate Mukalla from the terrorist group’s control. The city’s main bridge was named after Manar, a young girl killed by al-Qaeda. These gestures were both attempts at mending the country’s social fabric and dissolving the friction that leads to violent conflict.

Such acts remind us that remembrance is indispensable to peacebuilding. Reconciliation is impossible when the suffering of victims is ignored. This points to a second lesson to learn from our past: that truth and remembrance go hand in hand; without them, no real progress is likely. Acknowledging past mistakes is the surest way to prevent their recurrence. Then, foundations of trust between warring parties can be rebuilt as part of one nation.

Countries around the globe have overcome war and repression through truth commissions and dialogue. Such endeavours have proven critical milestones in those nations’ healing processes. In this regard, Morocco, Rwanda, and South Africa have achieved reconciliation to varying degrees. 

Finally, one of the most salient teachings is the interdependence of humanity. Throughout Yemen’s history, whether in times of war or peace, it’s undeniable that what happens within the country is linked to what occurs beyond our borders.

The coronavirus pandemic is a stunning example of this fact. Rather than evaluating developments independently from one another, it makes more sense to cultivate a deeper perception of the interconnected nature of world events. With this approach, we can devise the most effective strategies for conflict resolution.

If we Yemenis can accept our mistakes without forgetting them, rely on peace to build strength, and understand that everything is related in a global sense, then we have a golden opportunity to bring coexistence to the land of Arabia Felix.

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